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Obama Visits St. Paul's Restored Union Depot Wednesday

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO/AP) — During a stop in St. Paul Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced a job creating competition to put Americans back to work fixing roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

Air Force One took off from a snowy Washington, D.C., and landed around 1:30 p.m. at a frigid Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Strong winds met the president's plane, as he walked off Air Force One with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and two Twin Cities members of Congress -- U.S. Reps. Betty McCullum and Keith Ellison.

Gallery: Obama Visits St. Paul

The president was greeted by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.

Once on the ground, Obama went to tour the Metro Transit Light Rail Operations and Maintenance Facility in St. Paul.

The Minneapolis to St. Paul Green Line is one of the projects partially funded by the president's stimulus plan.

From there, the president went to the newly renovated Union Depot in St. Paul for his main address.

Related: 'Things Are Going In The Wrong Direction': Obama Detractor At Union Depot

When White House officials chose St. Paul's Union Depot for Obama's announcement of a $600 million competition for federal grants to fund infrastructure projects, they picked a site that received nearly $125 million in federal funds for a major renovation.

Union Depot went into decline in the early 1970s after the city's dwindling passenger train service was moved to a new depot in the Midway area between downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis. It was in serious disrepair, McCollum said, when she toured it shortly after being elected to Congress in 2000.

"It had been overrun by pigeons, windows were broken and shuttered, and the space was cold and largely abandoned, except for a few empty mail carts," McCollum said in a statement.

Today, it's becoming a regional transit hub. It's already being used by Metro Transit buses and some intercity bus companies, and it's poised to become busier later this year when the Green Line starts running and Amtrak service returns.

The project, which was in the works before Obama took office, has created more than 3,000 jobs since construction began in 2010, according to McCollum's office. The renovations were completed in December 2012.


Obama kicked off his Wednesday speech with a few ribs about the weather, saying he can at least tough it out thanks to his Chicago roots.

"Can I just say that when we got off the plane, Secretary Foxx, who is from North Carolina, turned to me and he said, 'This is the coldest I've ever been in my life,'" Obama said to a roar of laughter. "Now, we were only out there for like a minute, which goes to show how soft these folks from North Carolina are when it comes to the weather. I, on the other hand, am from Chicago. I walked off those stairs and I was like, 'This is balmy, this is great.' February, in Minnesota -- can't beat it. Cannot beat it."

Obama thanked Minnesota politicians, including Mayor Chris Coleman, Ellison, McCollum, new Mayor Betsy Hodges and former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.

"My great friend, who actually told me I was running for president before I knew I was running for president," Obama said about Rybak.

Obama congratulated Minnesota on its great representation at the 2014 Winter Olympics, saying that though the amount of Minnesotans was not shocking, the many athletes made him proud.

"What is particularly interesting is that, once again, the tiny town of Warroad proved that it really is Hockeytown, USA, thanks to T.J. Oshie and Gigi Marvin, who we're just so proud of," he said. "And T.J.'s shootout performance against the Russians I might say I enjoyed a lot. I tweeted at him about it."

But Obama didn't come to Minnesota to talk about hockey -- though he admitted he can't play it -- he came to talk about job creation and economic growth.

He laid out an opportunity agenda with four parts -- good jobs that pay well in manufacturing, energy, innovation and infrastructure; job training; guaranteeing access to world-class education and rewarding work with wages people can live on, while earning savings and health care.

Obama said they're looking to Congress to work on these priorities but he's also not waiting.

"In this year of action, whenever I can partner directly with states or cities or business leaders or civic leaders to act on this opportunity agenda, I'm going to go ahead and do it. We can't wait. We've got to move. We've got to get things going. Too many families are counting on it," he said.

With that, he launched into his new competition for 21st century infrastructure -- roads, bridges, rails, ports, airports, schools and more.

"So next week, I'm going to send Congress a budget that funds rebuilding our transportation infrastructure in a more responsible way -- by doing it over four years, which gives cities and states and private investors the certainty they need to plan major projects," he said.

For Obama's complete speech, watch the video clips below.


Republicans tried to score political points by highlighting the absence of leading Minnesota Democratic officeholders at Obama's appearance, targeting Sen. Al Franken, who's running for re-election this fall.

Minnesota GOP Chairman Keith Downey accused Franken of distancing himself from the president.

"Al Franken's record is a total rubber-stamping of President Obama's agenda," Downey said in a statement. "Between casting the deciding vote for the Obamacare debacle to supporting President Obama 100 percent of the time, why wouldn't Al Franken want to welcome the President to Minnesota?"

Dayton did not attend the event either, but it's because he's recovering from hip surgery. He has said he expects to be in a body cast into next month, so he's working from home.

U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., said he planned to pose a series of unanswered questions via his Twitter account in response to Obama's visit.

"Minnesotans keep telling me they have had enough and they can no longer bear the burden of failed policies and a weak economy," Kline said in a statement.


About two dozen climate change activists rallied in the frigid cold outside Union Depot to urge Obama to reject the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline and protest the expanded use of Canadian tar sands oil.

The event was organized by MN 350 to protest how the upsurge in trains transporting crude oil, primarily from North Dakota, is snarling passenger train service, including the Empire Builder, which connects St. Paul with Chicago to the east and Seattle and Portland, Ore., to the west.

"Hey hey, ho ho, Amtrak is the way to go," they chanted as the midday temperature approached 10 degrees. "Trains for people not for oil."

Obama told governors at a White House meeting on Monday that he expects to decide within the next couple months on whether to approve the pipeline from western Canada across the U.S. to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas. The project has been caught up in the debate over climate change. Pipeline opponents say the tar sands oil Keystone XL would carry is dirtier than other crude because producing it generates more greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming. They're also worried about spills.

The protesters stood against a backdrop of a light-rail train, which Metro Transit parked in front of the station for the president's visit.

Kate Jacobson, lead coordinator for MN 350, said the protesters want Obama to support mass transit to reduce the need for oil.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Raw Video: Obama's Speech (Part 1)

Raw Video: Obama's Speech (Part 2)

Raw Video: Obama's Speech (Part 3)

Raw Video: Obama's Speech (Part 4)

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